New York Medical College

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VALHALLA, New York, March 10, 2010—A researcher at New York Medical College has developed a method for predicting when a person is at acute risk (within three months) for suicidal behavior. In a paper published in the March issue of the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, Herbert Hendin, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at the medical college, documents the use of a verbal instrument that can detect with greater accuracy than ever before the subtle indicators of suicidal behavior.

The research team studied 283 veterans in the inpatient and outpatient units at the Michael De Bakey VA Medical Center in Houston, Tex. Using an instrument they developed known as the Affective States Questionnaire (ASQ), investigators were able to identify patients at risk with more accuracy and fewer false positives than in previous studies. The tool was even more accurate when applied to patients who displayed risk factors such as substance abuse and poor functioning on the job or in relationships.

Earlier work by the research team focused on suicidal patients’ inability to tolerate intense emotional states, such as anxiety, rage, desperation, abandonment, loneliness, hopelessness, self-hatred, guilt, and humiliation. Such states often led to patients expressing fear that they were “falling apart.” Just before death, the suicides averaged more than three times the number of intense affects than comparably depressed nonsuicidal patients.

The ASQ also obviated the need to ask patients directly if they were suicidal, a question that suicides typically deny. The ASQ scores of such patients were high enough to correctly predict their suicidal behavior.

Herbert Hendin, M.D., clinical professor of psychiatry at New York Medical College, is the CEO of Suicide Prevention International and an internationally recognized authority on suicide and suicide prevention. In addition to his research in this country, he has made contributions to understanding and preventing suicide in the Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, and Hungary. He is one of two U.S. experts on suicide prevention selected to advise the World Health Organization in its global suicide prevention activities. Among many other honors, he has been awarded the prestigious Louis I. Dublin Award of the American Association of Suicidology for “distinguished contributions to our knowledge of suicide.”